Our NFL Thursday miniseries glides into the 1980s with a look at the breakout season for one of the all-time great dynasties in NFL history, albeit one funded by Mafia dollars. Yes, we remain curmudgeons; we cannot help it. But facts be facts, so we like to keep them straight and at the forefront of everything we do here. That being said, enjoy the column today …

(And if you’re curious, check out our first miniseries entry on this year for context.)

Super Bowl XVI MVP: Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco (original); Jack Reynolds, LB, San Francisco (revised)

The San Francisco 49ers won their first NFL title by beating the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl, 26-21, with 49ers quarterback Joe Montana taking home MVP honors for compiling 157 passing yards with 1 TD—and tacking on 1 rushing score, too. But his numbers are pedestrian, really. Overall, the S.F. offense gained just 275 yards, while the 49ers defense forced 4 turnovers and truly won the game.

The famous goal-line stand was basically another turnover, too. Throw in 5 sacks, and it was the S.F. defense that perhaps deserves an MVP investigation. Any one player to single out, however? The best we can do is linebacker Jack Reynolds, with 8 tackles and 1 sack. That’s not an overwhelmingly line, but both Montana and Reynolds would be symbolic choices, representing their respective units.

In the end, though, nothing Montana did was “valuable”—he averaged just 7.1 yards per attempt, and there were no deep, long throws to break open a tight game. The defense set the table here for the 49ers with the turnovers, the sacks, and the goal-line stand. Three Bengals turnovers led directly to the 20-0 halftime lead for S.F., and the 49ers defense held on in the second half for the win.

Again, this game was won by the defense, so we’re going with Hacksaw, symbolically. We can’t symbolically reward the leader of an offense that netted just 275 yards. In fact, this was the first time in Super Bowl history the winning team was out-gained on offense by the losing team. So, there’s no way we can call anything Montana did truly “valuable” without being hypocrites.

1981 NFL ROTY: George Rogers, RB, New Orleans & Lawrence Taylor, LB, New York Giants (original); Everson Walls, CB, Dallas (revised)

The two top rookies voted as ROTY winners were New Orleans Saints running back George Rogers (1,800 scrimmage yards and 13 TDs) and New York Giants LB Lawrence Taylor (9.5 sacks and 1 INT). With the Saints, finishing with just 4 wins, we will look to Taylor and other candidates for our singular winner here. The Giants made the playoffs with Taylor, just one season after finishing just 4-12.

But two other defensive standouts are also part of this equation: 49ers cornerback Ronnie Lott (7 INTs) and Dallas Cowboys CB Everson Walls, who led the NFL with 11 INTs as a rookie. Both led their defenses to division championships, and even though Walls missed on this famous play in the postseason, leading the NFL as a rookie in INTs is impressive, especially for a division winner. He’s our pick.

Check in every Thursday for our NFL awards historical analysis on The Daily McPlay!